Friday, September 25, 2009

Lotus F1: World’s most expensive paddock club pass?

Re-published from Malaysian Insider

SEPT 20 — Alex Yoong. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you see the name? If you’re anything like the average Malaysian, Yoong’s name will have become practically synonymous with an internationally broadcast debacle.

Which is a bit of a shame, really. Although Yoong did not make a very strong case for himself in that, the pinnacle of motor racing, he’s actually quite a handy racer. His numerous wins in touring cars are testament enough to his skill and talent behind the wheel. Make no mistake, Yoong was good. Just not good enough for F1.

I admit I was one of those baying for blood after I watched a struggling Yoong — running sixth in a Melbourne GP that looked more demolition derby than Formula One — meekly make way for seventh place Mika Salo, surrendering without a fight what would have been the sole championship point of his career. That was simply too much.

From then on, Yoong’s Formula One career was one embarrassment after another. It came to the point that television commentators, usually quite reverent of F1 drivers, began ridiculing him. The ignominy of it all...

After Yoong lost his F1 drive, I thought he would be consigned to oblivion. Who would want to be associated with a virtual emblem of failure? To his credit, Yoong persevered. For a time, he languished on the sidelines, with part-time drives in minor series, before he finally redeemed himself with a stellar showing in A1GP.

I’ve grown to respect the man. Not for what he did in Formula One, but for what he’s done since. A lesser person who have been crushed by the negativity of an entire nation weighing on him. Enough to maybe make peace with god before going down on a 12-gauge. Not Yoong; he got on with life, got on with the job.

Many, probably most, still associate Yoong with his craptacular performance in Formula One. That’s how life is: when you do good no one remembers, when you do bad no one forgets. And that’s also probably why the upcoming Lotus/1 Malaysia/ Formula One team has been so poorly received.

And I don’t even begin to blame them. Politics and innuendos of public monies being railroaded to fatten some crony’s pockets aside, Formula One is no free ride in the park. So far, we’ve heard figures ranging from RM160 million to RM1.6 billion being talked about as the annual cost of running the team.

The higher end is, of course, what it costs for the teams that want to win. The lower range is, unfortunately, what it’ll take just to come along for the ride. Remember also that this number is only what it will take to run the team. To set it all up, well, that’s going to be quite a bit more.

So where do we want the team to be? Actually challenging for victory or are we happy if we don’t end up holding the wooden spoon? Which then begs the question: If we’re not in it to win it, why are we even doing it at all? Just to be there? To simply make up the numbers? If that’s the case, I can’t see how it would be positive to have Malaysia associated with also-rans, unless that’s what the government is planning to market the country as: mediocre at best.

Because Proton is involved, there’s also talk of “technology transfer”. But seeing as A) they already own Lotus and B) the only thing an F1 car has in common with a road car is they both have four tyres and a steering wheel, you’ve got to wonder just what kind of technology is going to be transferred. Probably the kind that makes better badges — “Handling by Lotus F1”, that’s got to be worth another couple of thousand cars a year at least.

You know how all the companies that sponsor F1 (even if it’s just some sticker on a driver’s helmet) will tell you how their products have “F1 technology” or are developed from “experience earned on the race track”? Not to put it too bluntly, it’s all bullcrap. Nothing in F1 gets into your car, and nothing from your car is used in F1. It’s all chalk and cheese.

I have no idea how much money this entire exercise will cost Proton, but when comparative giants such as Honda and BMW cannot justify the expenditure, can Proton really do so? Also consider that these companies sell on a global scale, so they’ve got even more reason to be there. Proton, well, I guess we’re about due for another Special Edition...

Right now, the details are still sketchy so it’s too soon to point the finger of death at Lotus/1 Malaysia/ F1. Maybe it’ll all get going without the risk of us having to read about a RM12 billion Lotus/1 Malaysia/ F1 scandal a decade from now.

Maybe they’ll actually figure out some way to get up to speed without putting Alex Yoong at risk of losing his status as the butt of every joke involving a Malaysian F1 entry. If they do, they could probably sell the blueprint to Toyota, god knows they could do with one.

Right now, however, I can’t help but think the happiest man in the world goes by the name Alex Yoong.

No comments: